2017 Eclipse Epilogue

Many of us have looked forward to this eclipse opportunity for years. I’ve been telling my students about it for a long time. I will now share my experiences during the 2017 eclipse while I am still in post-eclipse euphoria. I must say that, though I have been teaching about total solar eclipses for decades, it is a completely different thing to actually observe one.

I viewed the eclipse from the home of my colleague, Dr. Patterson. We were fortunate to have clear skies. Our day started with some gentle rain, but the clouds moved away about an hour before totality. By that time, many friends and colleagues had joined the party. I brought my solar binoculars to the party, but I let one of the girls use them. Rather than looking at the Sun while totality was approaching, I was observing the increasing darkness. In addition, I was double-checking the settings on my camera, hoping to get some decent photos. I automated as much as I could because I didn’t want to spend time messing with the camera during totality.

As totality approached, it started getting noticeably darker. Except for the short shadows, the surroundings began to appear a bit like they do during short winter days when the Sun is lower in the southern sky. During the last minutes before totality, when it started to resemble nighttime, I found it a bit disorienting. This was a truly strange environment. Though I knew exactly what was going on, I still wrestled with nervousness! I could now understand how this must have terrified people who didn’t understand what solar eclipses were about.

During totality, when it was safe for me to finally look up at the Sun, I was in awe! My nervousness was replaced by curiosity and excitement like I haven’t felt for a long time. Glancing near the horizon, it looked like sunset all around. Venus was clearly visible. The eclipse itself was breathtaking. I knew that no single image could truly capture the incredible sight that was above me.

I didn’t trust my timer, so I was nervously pushing a remote button on my camera, snapping photo after photo, stopping only when I had to wait for data to load onto the SD card. I did something called bracketing. I set my camera to cycle through different exposure times so that some photos would capture dimmer light from the Sun’s corona while other photos would capture the brighter features, such as solar prominences and the “diamond ring”. Below are some photos I took just before, during, and after totality.

At the end of 2-minutes and 10-seconds, the Sun started peeking out from behind the Moon. Someone yelled, “Diamond ring!” Totality was now over. It seemed like the fasted two minutes ever! Many at the party voiced that same opinion. My only regret was that my family was not there to experience it with me. Because of the weather forecast, my sons had made responsible decisions to go to school that day. My wife had to work, but at least she and her coworkers did get outside to see the partial eclipse.

Seeing a total solar eclipse was an experience that I will never forget. Going back into the classroom, I now have my original photos and, more importantly, personal experience to pass along to students. I will also emphasize that no amount of description or analysis takes the place of actually experiencing one. I will therefore be urging them to see at least one before they die. Now, we look forward to April 2024!

Gravitational Waves Interview

John Rives interviews professor William Koch about Einstein’s theory of General Relativity and the recent observation of gravitational waves. The link to the interview is here. Also, please visit John’s World Synthesis site at http://www.worldsynthesis.com

Successful Spring 2014 Evening With the Stars

2014-04-05 22.09.15GEB 233 was packed when I began my talk on black holes.  I expected half the audience to leave in disgust after a few minutes into it, but they stuck around.  Could it have been that once I started, the walls and doors of the room themselves became like the event horizon of a black hole, trapping everyone in the interior of the room?  Were people attempting to come in from outside able to do so?  Or, were they met by firewalls, created by breaking the entanglement between particles just outside the doors, having an energetic and violent effect on the vacuum energy outside the doors?  There also is a remote chance that the audience found the confusion about black holes and the ideas being kicked around to resolve the confusion fascinating.  I am going to assume the latter.  Our understanding of black holes is causing some re-think of old and trusted principles of physics.  Thank you to all who attended.  I wish we could have provided time at the telescopes afterward, but the clouds spoiled that part.

Black Holes Slide Show

Solar Eclipse May 20, 2012

Although the most spectacular part of this eclipse wasn’t going to be visible in the Kansas City area, I made a last-minute decision to go ahead and try to get some photos of the partial phase.  Since I didn’t plan ahead, I didn’t have a telescope at home with me.  All I had was a pair of Binomite solar binoculars, a Canon 50D and a cheap Canon 75mm-300mm telephoto lens.

I included not only a couple of photos of the eclipse, but also a photo of what I did with the telephoto lens to allow me to take them.  I went to Price Chopper and got an non-inflated Mylar balloon, cut the edges off so that I had a couple of round sheets of Mylar.  Then I used my wife’s fingernail polish remover (acetone) and wiped off the paint off its outer surface.  I covered the front of the lens and used a rubber band to secure it.  I then trimmed off the excess Mylar.  It was a total MacGyver job!

Aurora Borealis

I am sitting out on my deck in Olathe, KS admiring the pinkish glow of an aurora from a CME from the Sun ejected days ago.  Its not often one can see them this far south, especially with all the light pollution from Kansas City north of here.  Unfortunately, I did not have time to set up my camera to attempt any photos of the aurora.

We are heading toward a solar maximum and we can expect more such events in the near future.  There are many free iPhone and Android apps and web sites that give solar storm information, such as www.spaceweather.com.

Do You Want to Help with Astronomy Research?

Today, there are astronomy projects out there that are designed to get the general public involved to assist in real research.  Two such projects are Galaxy Zoo, and Galaxy Zoo Supernovae.

At Galaxy Zoo, hundreds of thousands galaxies in Hubble Space Telescope images need classifying.  Astronomers need these classifications to help solve the puzzle of how galaxies form and evolve.  People wanting to participate are run through a simple tutorial.  After completing the tutorial they are given new images of galaxies to classify.

The Galaxy Zoo Supernovae project involves looking at images of galaxies where bright spots have recent appeared.  Supernovae are exploding stars and there are different types of supernovae.  Participants then compare the bright spots with older reference images to see if these spots are indeed supernovae.  Like Galaxy Zoo, a simple and brief tutorial is completed before they are set loose on new images.

If you love astronomy or just want to be a part of professional astronomy research, check these sites out.

ISS Flyover

I was out on the deck about 9pm when the ISS became visible, flying almost directly overhead.  Satellites become visible as solar panels catch Sunlight and reflect it back down to Earth.  They are visible just after sunset and just before sunrise.  This passover was very bright and with binoculars, one could see two lobes that were the two solar-panel arrays on the ISS.  Needless to say, I not only rushed to grab my binoculars, but also called my step-sons to come out and enjoy it with me.  It wasn’t long before it moved into the Earth’s shadow and disappeared from view.

If you want to see an ISS flyover, you can go to this site and put in your zip code and find the local times for flyovers and where in the sky to look.